Counselor's Corner: Effective Ways to Say No Without Feeling Guilt

Just because something seems good to do, does not mean it is good for you to do. Saying, “no” to good things so you can be available for the great things in your life will make you a much happier person.

The problem that many people have is that they say yes to almost everything that comes into their paths because of the terrible feeling of guilt that comes after saying no.

I have struggled for many years with not being able to say, “no” to what others wanted of me. Over the past few years I have gotten much better with being able to say, “no”, but there is still an underlying sense that…I should of, I could of or I ought to.

Reflect: Where does this feeling of guilt stem from and can it be possible to say no without with burden of guilt? Would you like to be able to say, “no” assertively and without the aftermath of guilt? I know I would like that.

►Let’s explore and uncover why one could have difficulty saying no, and what can be done to resolve the matter of guilt that accompanies saying, “no.”

Some Reasons There May be Guilt for Saying No:

1. Don’t want to disappoint others.

2. Care deeply about what others think (people-pleasing).

3. Fear others will get upset/angry and withdraw from you.

4. Feel selfish if you take time for yourself or want to do something you want to do.

5. Give into pressure or manipulative tactics. (Most likely there was someone in your past who made you feel guilty if you told them no and you associate that particular incident(s) with saying no to other people.)

6. Don’t feel you have rights, such as a right to your time, your interest, and your priorities. (At some point you have been violated and have not reclaimed your rights or boundaries.)

7. Poor or no time management. Lack of structure or planning. If you don’t have a plan/schedule for your work, leisure time, family, and other interests then you will be prey to saying yes to whatever comes in your path. Write out a weekly and monthly schedule and stick to it as much as possible.

*there will be exceptions that do come up in your schedule, so make allowances for them but do not make it a norm to be flighty with your time. Others will take advantage of your inability to plan.

8. Have a false sense of responsibility or feel a sense of false obligation to others. You will know when you are to do something for or with someone, you will not feel rushed, pressured, hurried, or guilty.

9. You feel like you would be rejecting the person. Take ownership of how they might react to you saying no.

How to Say, “No” Without Guilt:

1. Know why you are saying, “no.” What are you eliminating so that you can make room for what you need or want? Remember just because it seems good does not mean it is good for you. If you had a busy week and a friend or family member comes into town unexpectedly and wants to see you, but you really need some downtime; that is the reason you are saying, “no”. Knowing why you need to say,” no”, removes the guilt. Know your limits, everyone has them. Not everybody can do what others do.

2. Maintain your priorities, this is best accomplished by writing out your schedule including work, leisure, date-time with a spouse if married, church activities, time with family/friends, and most importantly your time with God. Trying to squeeze in activities for or with others is never a good idea. Your schedule should be balanced, of course with the few exceptions when things come up unexpectedly.

3. If you feel pressure to respond to someone’s request, don’t give an immediate answer. Wait, step back, and pray. Don’t always give an automatic response to a request, but instead say something like, “I’ll need to get back with you on that.”

4. Practice persistence with people who will “bargain” you to say,” yes.” Some people will try and wear you down until you say,” yes”. Don’t get angry or upset, but calmly and assertively repeat yourself until the person understands. Do not negotiate with them. The less explanation you give, the better.

5. Be assertive but kind. To turn down someone’s request you could simply say, “I’m sorry that does not work for me.” You do not owe anyone a detailed explanation. You could also say, “That time does not work for me, but I will let you know when a good time is for me.” The last statement puts you in a position of power. In other words, you're letting others know you're not going to do what they want unless it is a good fit for you.

6. If you get asked on the spot for a request, have a go-to response. An example would be:” I’m sorry I have other commitments right now and I am unavailable.”

7. Acknowledge that you can’t do everything. Saying, “yes” to everyone means something or someone is being neglected, including yourself.

8. Realize you can’t please everyone. If you did everything that others wanted of you, they may be happy but you will be miserable and exhausted.

9. If you are concerned the person that you say,” no” to will withdraw from you or become upset, you can rest assured they are being manipulative. Maintain a healthy distance from manipulative people.

10. Understand the tactics that people will use to get you to do what they want you to do. Some examples of these tactics are flattery/compliments, guilt, and complaining/whining about a problem.

11. Don’t over apologize. A simple, “I’m sorry,” should suffice. Over apologetic people can be easily taken advantage of or duped.

►You have limited time, resources, and energy, so you cannot afford to waste these on saying, “yes,” to everything. Know what your priorities are. If you don’t know, ask God.

►Saying, “no,” when you need to can help you manage your time, your interests, and your priorities.

Let’s Discuss:

What about you, do you have trouble saying, “no,” without guilt? What is one thing you can do to alleviate the guilt that comes from saying, “no?”